Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday told US Secretary of State John Kerry, currently visiting the Middle East, that Israel’s goodwill gestures were too insufficient for the resumption of peace talks, the Chinese news agency reported early Saturday.
Kerry, currently on his fifth Middle East visit in three months, is shuttling between Amman and Jerusalem, meeting Abbas and Netanyahu in his latest effort to restart negotiations. No concrete progress has been reported from his efforts.
He had a four-hour dinner meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday night in Jerusalem followed by a more than two-hour lunch with Abbas on Friday in Amman at the home of the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan. Then it was back to Jerusalem for another meeting with Netanyahu and dinner with President Shimon Peres.
On Saturday morning, he boarded a helicopter to fly back to Amman to meet again with Abbas, this time at the Palestinian president’s residence there.
Though Kerry had been slated to hold a press conference in the Jordanian capital late Saturday morning, the press conference was cancelled. No reason was given for the cancellation.
Later Saturday, he was to return to Jerusalem to meet with Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and Isaac Molho, a Netanyahu envoy.
Kerry is scheduled to leave Jerusalem on Sunday to head to Brunei for a Southeast Asia security conference.
Kerry is bidding to broker a series of at least three meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas at the start of new direct peace talks, and is seeking guarantees from the Israelis and the Palestinians that a new peace effort will not quickly fall apart, as happened with the last resumption of negotiations in 2010, an Israeli TV report said Friday night.
However, Saturday’s Xinhua report showed Kerry had yet to make a significant breakthrough.
“What Israel offers in terms of releasing a limited number of prisoners and increasing the Palestinian Authority’ s influence in the West Bank is not enough for President Abbas to accept returning to the negotiating table,” the news agency quoted a Palestinian official as saying.
The official reportedly said Israel would have to freeze settlement building and accept a two-state solution with pre-1967 borders for talks between the two sides to continue, adding that Abbas had told Kerry as much during their meeting in Amman.
Kerry added a stop in Abu Dhabi to his two-week swing through the Mideast and Asia, then canceled it because of his ongoing meetings on the Mideast peace process.
There is deep skepticism that Kerry can get the two sides to agree on a two-state solution, something that has eluded presidents and diplomats for years. But the flurry of meetings has heightened expectations that the two sides can be convinced to at least restart talks, which broke down in 2008.
So far, there have been no public signs that the two sides are narrowing their differences.
In the past, Abbas has said he won’t negotiate unless Israel stops building settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.
Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying there should be no pre-conditions for talks.
Abbas made significant progress with Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in talks in 2007 and 2008, but believes there is little point in negotiating with the current Israeli leader.
Netanyahu has adopted much tougher starting positions than Olmert, refusing to recognize Israel’s pre-1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and saying east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital, is off the table. Abbas and his aides suspect Netanyahu wants to resume talks for the sake of negotiating and creating a diplomatic shield for Israel, not in order to reach an agreement.
Abbas, in turn, has much to lose domestically if he drops his demands that Netanyahu either freeze settlement building or recognize the 1967 frontier as a starting point before talks can resume. Netanyahu has rejected both demands. A majority of Palestinians, disappointed after 20 years of fruitless negotiations with Israel, opposes a return to talks on Netanyahu’s terms.